Earlier this winter, the local newspaper reported on a match between the sled hockey team sponsored by the Buffalo Sabres and its Pittsburgh Penguins counterpart. Each team has a player going to Sochi, Russia in March as part of the USA Paralympic Sled Hockey team, but the article was published in the local news section rather than sports.
It got the “soft news,” or feature story treatment, with lines such as the game “served as an inspiration” to the spectators; and describing one of the athletes as “born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the knees down, but that hasn’t stopped [him] from excelling at the game he loves.”
One bright spot was the reporter writing that the game offered spectators a “glimpse of Olympic-quality play.”
With those sports-related ingredients — athletes, Olympics, competition — why wasn’t the story on the sports pages? It’s the disability factor, of course. Reporters and editors, like most of the nondisabled population, don’t consider disabled athletes and their sports on the same level as the “pros.” It’s as if disabled athletes are “wanna-bes” who compete for fun and to provide inspiration. (What a gross insult.)
That attitude explains why the national media does such a bad job covering the Paralympics. After the London Games, the International Paralympics Committee was “disappointed with the level of media coverage in the U.S., where the rights holder, NBC” did not broadcast it live.
A report in the Guardian newspaper said that, “in contrast to the more than 400 hours of coverage of the Games, 150 hours of it in prime time, [NBC aired] four hour-long [Paralympics] highlights packages on its NBC Sports Channel [along with] a deal with YouTube to show daily highlights online.”
Perhaps a wee bit of change is in the air. For the Sochi Games, NBC and the NBC Sports Network said it will air 50 hours of TV coverage, beginning March 7 with the opening Paralympics ceremony, continuing with daily coverage and ending with the closing ceremony March 16. NBC said the coverage breaks down this way: NBCSN will broadcast 46.5 hours, and NBC will air an additional three and a half hours. But don’t expect to see Matt Lauer, Brian Williams or any of NBC’s “A-Team” sticking around to broadcast from the Paralympics.
On the local level, it will be just as difficult finding daily coverage of Paralympic Games in newspapers, TV or radio sports reports. Assuming there is little public interest in these Games, editors don’t want to devote precious space or the airtime.
But you can do something about that. Call, write and email the sports editor at your local newspaper, and the sports departments at your local TV and radio stations. Demand daily reports on the full Paralympic schedule, all the winners and losers whether the athletes are local or not.
And make sure to tell your local media outlets that you expect the best quality sports coverage they have to offer and to skip the inspirational and patronizing tones they so often rely on.
It’s time to let them know that the Paralympics are as worthy of their attention as those other Games.